Climate Change in Arkansas

Climate change is affecting the daily lives of Arkansans in a variety of ways. 

Along with many national and global agencies, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has studied the effects of climate change in our Natural State. Game & Fish has concluded that Arkansas will experience significant effects from a globally changing climate. In the 2015 Arkansas Wildlife Action Plan, Game & Fish notes the following items as current and future impacts of climate change: 

  • An increase in average yearly temperatures, particularly in NWA
  • More frequent heat waves
  • Public health problems including insect-borne diseases and heat-related illnesses
  • Intense rainfall causing soil erosion
  • Eastern farmland drought and flooding

Arkansas has a strong history of agriculture, timber, outdoor tourism and food production - industries that all depend on the hospitable climate of our beautiful State. To preserve our legacy and be stewards of our future, Arkansans need to be leaders in the fight against climate change. Our economic stability, environmental purity and social stability rely on preserving the natural resources around us. 
Use the resources below to learn more about climate change in Arkansas and what you can do about it.

Changing Precipitation Patterns in Arkansas

Map of southeastern US showing changing precipitation patterns in all four seasons from 1901-2007

The EPA notes that the most pressing climate-related concern for Arkansas is the increase in heavy rain events, severe flooding and storms. Heavy downpours and increasing annual rainfall can have catastrophic effects, including: 

  • Property damage
  • Reduced crop yields
  • Harm to livestock
  • Stormwater and street infrastructure damage

Changing Hardiness Zones in Arkansas

Arkansas USDA Hardiness Zone Map 1990-2012 showing increasing temperatures across state

Hardiness zones maps are an easy and reliable way for farmers and gardeners to know when and what to plant. Hardiness zones tell the average minimum winter temperature in a region, a necessary metric for determining what plants can grow or thrive. Farmers must grow crops suited for their hardiness zone and when zones shift, substantial changes may be required in farming practices, planting and harvesting schedules and even in the types of crops one can grow.

In 2012, the USDA published the newest hardiness zone map for the United States which showed that, in general, the boundaries of hardiness zones had shifted north by approximately two-and-a-half degrees of latitude (about 175 miles). The 175 mile change occurred in only 22 years, showing a substantial shift in what crops and plants are viable across Arkansas. The University of Arkansas Extension Services gives the following examples of specific regional changes: 
"Here in northwest Arkansas, for example, zone 6b has receded like a melting glacier, remaining only in higher elevation parts of seven counties. Zone 7 dominates most of the land area of Arkansas, with areas north of I-30, east of Little Rock and everything north of I-40 falling in that zone. Zone 8a has pushed out of the gulf coastal plain region and now reaches north all the way to Little Rock."

Changing Tick Habitat in Arkansas

Projected changes in tick habitat map (present to 2080) showing high growth in eastern US

Northwest Arkansas is currently in a range of the country where ticks and other vectors that carry Lyme disease are scarce. Climate and weather, particularly temperature, precipitation and humidity, play a large part in determining where and when ticks can survive and pass diseases onto humans. 

The maps above (courtesy of the NCA) show how our changing climate will bring tick habitats into much of the eastern half of the country by 2080. 

The NCA describes the following potential impacts of climate change on the transmission of Lyme disease: 

  1. Changes in the geographic distribution of the disease due to the increase in favorable habitat for ticks to survive off their hosts
  2. Lengthened transmission season due to earlier onset of higher temperatures in the spring and later onset of cold and frost
  3. Higher tick densities leading to greater risk in areas where the disease is currently observed due to milder winters and potentially larger rodent host populations

Changing Temperatures in Arkansas

Arkansas Annual Temperatures graph from 1895 to 2015 showing upward trend, with secondary peak ~1935

Average annual temperatures in Arkansas are expected to rise 4.9 to 5.1°F by 2050. An increase in average temperatures will drive up home energy bills, produce negative public health effects, threaten crop productivity, worsen drought conditions and threaten Arkansas wildlife habitats.

Climate Related Resources for Arkansas

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The National Climate Assessment (NCA)

NOAA National Climate Data Center (NCDC)

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Arkansas Game and Fish Commission

The Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (SCIPP)

Climate Change and Arkansas in the News

  • 'Withdrawing from the Paris Accord May Negatively Affect AR Businesses" (KNWA)
  • "Arkansas Begins to Grapple with Climate Change" (AR Times)
  • "Fayetteville Develops Energy Action Plan" (Democrat Gazette)
  • "Fayetteville Mayor Vows to Stick with Paris Accord" (Fayetteville Flyer)